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Lady Fiasco: Chapter 18

To Catch a Murderer

They returned to Alison Hall that afternoon. Tyrell held Fiona more possessively than normal as he led her into the foyer. Although she wore a sling on her arm, she looked rather cheerful for an invalid.

She smiled up at him, groggy from laudanum. “This time the Duchess of Disaster wounded herself. I can sympathize with my former victims.”

Tyrell raked a hand through his disorderly curls. “Reserve some of your sympathy for me, Fiona. It is exceedingly hard to stand by, helpless, while someone you care about suffers. I believe I have aged ten years in one morning.”

Warmth flooded her cheeks. He cares. In the hazy memories of that morning, Fiona recalled how he had begged God for her life because he loved her. She tried not to betray her joy at this discovery, and decided the best disguise would be to tease him. “Now that you mention it, my lord, you do look older. Oh dear, now, Lady Haversburg can call you an old scapegrace.”

“Just so.”

As they walked across the foyer his boots reported crisply against the marble and echoed through the circular room. Out of the corner of his eye, Tyrell caught a flash of white descending on them. It had no place in the air above their heads. Before he could comprehend what was hurtling toward them, his battlefield instincts shot into action.

He grabbed Fiona and dove against the wall. He hunched over her, sheltering her beneath his chest. A deafening crash followed, and chunks of flying debris pelted his back.

Once the splattering stopped, Tyrell turned to stare at the foyer floor. One of the large Grecian urns from the balcony above their heads lay shattered at their feet. They looked at each other. Tyrell still clutched her against his side.

Fiona’s voice shook and came out barely above a whisper. “That’s twice today you’ve rescued me, my lord. But this time… this time we both might have been killed.”

“Are you all right?” He held her tight, waiting for her nod. Studying the debris, Tyrell picked up a broken section of the urn’s base and turned the thick marble over in his hand. Across the foyer, Honore stood in a doorway, also surveying the scene.

Mattie exploded into the vestibule, huffing and puffing. Behind her trailed a number of maids, two footmen, and the butler.

“I heard a noise. What’s happened?” Mattie bellowed, halting in front of the broken heap of stone. “What’s all this?”

Honore walked casually forward. “This, my dear Mattie, is a dreadful tangle.”

Tyrell stared at Lady Alameda. He thought her choice of words rather peculiar for the situation.

“Mattie, our Fiona has had something of a harrowing experience, and judging by the note I received earlier, this is her second such upset. She needs a restorative cup of tea and a rest. See to it, will you? Tell Lorraine to sit with Fiona for the rest of the night. She should not be left alone.”

“That is unnecessary, Aunt Honore. Truly. I feel fine.”

“I insist.” There were no superlatives no grand flourishes. Honore’s tone brooked no nonsense. “Mattie see to it.”

Mattie put an arm around Fiona. “Come along, m’ dear. We must get ye to bed and rest that arm of yours. I’ve a nice soothing balm that will draw out the swelling.”

Before Mattie could whisk her away, Fiona reached for Tyrell. He took her hand in his. “Thank you sounds dreadfully feeble on the face of things,” she said, and smiled at him with such warmth his poor cold heart nearly burst into a boil. “But I am deeply grateful to you, my lord. More than you know.”

He said nothing, but lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.

Honore issued a sharp command. “Lord Wesmont, a word with you in my study.” Mattie ushered Fiona away. Reluctantly, Tyrell followed Lady Alameda into her study. Honore shut the door and leaned against it. She wore a ferret-like expression.

Weary of her machinations, he drawled, “I suppose you want to hear my decision?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Honore snapped. “I’ve got more important matters to discuss with you. Aside from that, I knew what your answer would be the moment I first laid eyes on you. Probably before.”

“You flatter yourself, Lady Alameda. You could not have known, nor can you yet know, what I have decided. I’ve only come to a conclusion this very morning.”

She took a deep breath and rolled her eyes. “Very well. Shall we see how far from the mark I fell? You discovered this morning that you’re hopelessly in love with Fiona. She stirs your blood and engages your heart in a way no other woman can and you won’t be truly happy unless you wed her. Well, Wesmont, did I get it right?”

His countenance turned dark and hard, like a man who’s been cheated at cards.

The corners of Honore’s mouth played dangerously into a smirk. “Good grief man, you had it written on your sleeve the first day I met you. You’re not such a dolt that you actually believed I’d offer my niece to you carte blanche? A virgin on a platter?” She sneered at him and shook her head.

Tyrell’s jaw flexed, and his glower deepened.

Honore abruptly stopped grinning. Anger flashed across her face, matching his. “Don’t be a fool! She’s my flesh and blood.”

“Obviously, I am a fool. For I not only believed you—I nearly took you up on your false offer.”

“Folderol. If you think that, you are sadly ignorant of your own character, my lord. And I’ve no time for ignorance.”

“You played too deep this time, Lady Alameda. You misjudged me, at the risk of your niece’s maidenhood.”

“I’d have shot you myself if you took a single misstep.” Honore growled, “I never misjudge. Never!” But her face faltered. She suddenly looked vulnerable, as if she might crumple. “At least, I usually don’t.” Lady Alameda pursed her lips and studied the shelves of books lining the wall behind him until she regained control. “Come, Wesmont, I didn’t ask you in here to bicker.”

She seated herself behind the desk and waved him to a chair, which he refused. Studying his face, Honore absently scratched at the felt ink blotter.

“Then pray, why did you call me here? To gloat?”

“Hardly. No. I need your help.”

“That’s difficult to believe, after you’ve just explained to me how you manipulated me as if I were nothing more than a pawn on your chessboard.”

“Fustian! I didn’t manipulate you. I merely put you in a position to examine your own feelings. Was it so terrifying to discover that you loved my niece? Are you unhappy? Do you wish to call me out for my part in it?”

“Yes!” He slapped his hands on her desk. “Terrifying. You have no idea.” He dropped his head and lowered his voice. “But no, I don’t want to call you out. Strangle you, perhaps, but otherwise, no. I suppose I ought to be grateful.”

“Good. Then perhaps you won’t mind helping me. We’ve a somewhat bigger problem to deal with. You see, I think Fiona’s life may be in a rather precarious position.”

Honore picked up a quill and pulled the feathers through her fingers. “I doubt whether she is safe here at Alison Hall any longer. It’s quite possible she never was. I don’t know. I have miscalculated. It seems impossible to me—but there it is. One can’t deny facts that one sees with one’s own eyes.” She shook her head staring past Tyrell, past the window, to some unseen problem.

“How could I have been so blind?” She didn’t wait for his answer. “I’ve miscalculated, wagered incorrectly, misjudged someone and now, I fear, Fiona’s life hangs in the balance.” She glanced briefly at him but then returned to stroking her feather quill.

“What do you mean? Who? Who have you misjudged? Why is she in danger?” Tyrell squinted and tried to make sense of her ramblings. “Someone is trying to hurt Fiona?”

She nodded.

“Kill her?”

“I believe so.”

Honore traced her finger over the blotter as if writing. While Tyrell ticked through the short list of possibilities.

“Alameda! You saw him, didn’t you? He unbolted the urn and pushed it down on Fiona, didn’t he?” Tyrell gripped the edge of her desk as if it were Lady Alameda’s shoulders and he might squeeze her until he got an answer. She looked down at the blotter and slowly back up to him. The answer was obvious.

“I’ll kill the bastard.” He turned to go.

Honore jumped up and ran to the door, blocking his way.

“If Marcus were a bastard,” she said calmly, “I would hand you the pistol and count the paces myself. But Marcus is Francisco’s only heir. My step-son. You must allow me to handle this in my own way.”

Tyrell stared down at Honore but saw only the smoke and flames of his anger. “Step aside, my lady.”

She rested both her hands on his chest. “Believe me,” she said soothingly, “we will make him suffer far more under my ministrations, than if you were to run a blade through his heart. That’s far too easy, much too quick. There’s no beauty in it—no science.”

Tyrell’s eyes narrowed skeptically. He didn’t care about beauty or science; he just wanted to protect the woman he loved.

“Think carefully, Wesmont. Do you really want to flee into exile in Australia, or worse, America, just so you can put a bullet through Marcus’s sadly confused head? Are you willing to let his greed ruin your life?”

“I’ll do whatever I must, to protect Fiona.”

“Noble of you, but Fiona is safe for the nonce. Tomorrow is a different matter. That’s why I need your help. Do let me explain.”

He hesitated, but then listened as Honore unfolded her plan. They bent their heads together, conspired and argued, bickered and compromised, until Tyrell went away satisfied.


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